Myth busters for dental assistants: Is dental assisting really a dead-end job?

It's time to stop believing that dental assisting is a dead-end career. Dental assistants can set themselves up for success. Here's how this DA grew in her career.

Dec 12th, 2018
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There is no truth to the myth that dental assisting is a dead-end job. Let me tell you my story to make my point.

I will admit, there was a time in my career when I actually believed that dental assisting was a dead-end career. I’m not sure if it was the place where I worked, the people around me at the time, or exactly what caused it, but I felt defeated. Negativity can bring a person down, and negative people love company!

At the ripe old age of 19, I found myself with a beautiful seven-month-old baby boy and newly divorced from his absent dad. It was the lowest point in my life, and I had no idea where to turn. Everything I thought was going to happen—the cute little house, the perfect little family—was gone. I was at a total loss about where to go.

I ended up at the welfare office asking for food stamps. It was humiliating! It was at that office that I heard about a program that would put me through school, pay for my daycare, and actually pay me $1 an hour to attend. Since I had nowhere else to go, I gave it a shot.

They put me through a battery of tests and gave me a list of five things I might be good at. I don’t remember what four of them were, but one of them was dental assistant. I thought, why not? I’d had braces, and I’d loved my orthodontist and his assistant, so that was it!

A new career begins!

I began school one week after my son turned one-year-old. Seven short months later, I was graduating, baby in tow and all! That was 38 years ago, and my career has gone through several stages through the years.

Once I got past the dead-end career attitude, something amazing happened. My career took off and more opportunities came along. When my attitude toward my circumstances changed, so did my life!

Then several years ago I decided I wanted more. What “more” looked like, I didn’t actually know. I just knew that I had something to give. I felt like I had a lifetime of knowledge to share and an eagerness to do more. I remember going to the Chicago Midwinter Dental Meeting, and while riding home on the train I took out a notebook and wrote down my goals. I’m a firm believer that writing down goals, visiting them often, and working toward them will make those goals come true.

I decided that I wanted to become a Certified Dental Assistant certificant through the Dental Assisting National Board Inc. (DANB). You see, early in my career I was told, “Being a CDA certificant doesn’t mean anything,” “You won’t make more money,” or, “You don’t need that to get a job.” Like a fool, I allowed other people to dictate my career path. Looking back, maybe that’s why I ended up believing the dead-end job theory.

Even though some of those things may be true, I decided that I wanted to pursue CDA certification for myself, and I did. It is a professional accomplishment that I’m proud to hold. It’s something I worked hard for and continue to expand upon. Every one of us is an individual. Even though I don’t like strawberry ice cream I’m not going to tell you that you don’t like it. We need to do what’s best for us. It’s important to be unique and choose a path that fits you and your goals.

It doesn't have to stop there

Then I heard about a program through the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA) called the Fellowship/Mastership program. I didn’t know what it was, but I checked it out. As a member of the ADAA, I could sign up for its programs and work toward an accomplishment. I’m all about goals, so I dove in!

It took 300 hours of continuing education to become a Fellow of the ADAA, and through earning and maintaining DANB CDA certification, I already had 150 of those hours. I knew I could do this! I became number 117 to be inducted as a Fellow, meaning only 116 people before me had taken on the challenge. Today there are only about 160 Fellows of the ADAA.

Next came Mastership, and after my Fellowship, I knew I could do this! Twelve months later, I had completed the 400 hours of continuing education necessary for a Mastership. It was a year full of learning. I tell people that these programs are “learning excellence.” You can’t go through them and not expand your brain!

I dove into educating myself and learning all that I could. I took classes at night, on weekends, watched a webinar whenever I had time, and soaked up every bit of it. When I received my Mastership award, I became Master number 23. Master number 27 sits in the office next to me and is the practice’s treatment plan coordinator.

Out of approximately 325,000 dental assistants in the US, being a Master makes you stand out. It shows dedication, desire, determination, and enthusiasm for your career.

I challenge all of my fellow assistants to dig deeper. In case you didn’t already know, you have a great career, but you can make it even greater! Take at least one hour of CE a week . . . just one! Explore becoming a CDA certificant through DANB or joining the American Dental Assistants Association and checking out the Fellowship/Mastership programs. Do something to further your career and better your life. Even if you’re content where you are, you never know where life is going to take you.

It turns out I got the cute little house and the perfect little family. We are truly the only ones who put limits on ourselves. Stop neglecting yourself and reach for the stars!

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Tija Hunter, CDA, EFDA, CDIA, MADAA, is the office manager and chairside assistant to Dr. Eric Hurtte of O’Fallon, Missouri. She is a member of the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA), where she holds the honor of Master and sits on three national counsels. She is also the Illinois Dental Assistants Association vice president. She is founder of the Dental Assistants Study Club of St. Louis and St. Louis Dental Office Managers Study Club. She is the director of the Dental Careers Institute, with five locations in the US. Tija is also the author of six CE study courses. She is a national speaker and a certified trainer in nitrous oxide in several states. She can be reached at tijaefda@gmail.com.


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